Monday, August 11, 2008

Issac Hayes – 1942-2008

Issac Hayes has died.

With his deep, mellifluous baritone and his gleaming, bald dome, Mr. Hayes, dubbed Black Moses, was one of the first black music superstars of the 1970s. A later generation of fans knew him as the voice of Jerome “Chef” McElroy, the school cook on the animated TV show “South Park.”


Mr. Hayes’s breakthrough came with his second album, “Hot Buttered Soul,” produced in the summer of 1968. The album, which contained only four lengthy songs, sold more than a million copies. Two of its songs, “Big Time Champ” and “Walk on By,” became hits as singles.

In 1971, when Mr. Hayes was approached to write the music for “Shaft,” Gordon Parks’s story of a black private eye battling drug lords, he had never scored a film.

“They said Shaft was a relentless character, and it had to denote some kind of action or drama,” Mr. Hayes told The Post. Relying on an old “wah-wah” guitar riff played by Charles “Skip” Pitts to fuel the hard-driving sound he wanted, he recorded the song in two hours. The soundtrack stayed on the charts for 60 weeks.

The theme from Shaft is burned into my memory as the background music to the fall of my freshman year of college in 1971, and I’ve been a big Hayes fan ever since.